From Online Community to Modern Tribe

January 10, 2010

This TED talk shows how communities, a healthy lifestyle and a sense of purpose may be very important contributors for a long and happy life.

When it comes to aging itself, I think we should be looking into Aubrey de Grey‘s ideas. There is no good reason why we should just accept our fate and wither. There’s nothing graceful or dignified in losing your senses, becoming frail or shriveled – despite some optimists say (who are usually quite young themselves). I applaud anyone who manages to stay alert, healthy and active in old age, but I really don’t like the notion of “That’s how it is supposed to be”. I know, when faced with their unavoidable demise, people eventually reach an “acceptance” stage. If you can’t change it – embrace it. If you have gone through that process, the pain becomes a inconvenient memory and the idea that there might actually be a way out threatens to shake everything up again. People don’t want to get their hopes up and then be disappointed.

But whatever you think about aging, Dan Buettner made some important points about lifestyle. Apart from regular exercise and healthy food, everybody needs some sort of social unit to belong to. People to share your thoughts with, to help you when you are in need, to correct you if you are wrong. Unfortunately, bonds are loosening and more people spend their time sitting at home, making shallow connections over the internet. You learn that if people disagree with you, the right thing to do is to scold them and then move on until you find a place where everybody agrees with you. This doesn’t create anything but groups of extremist assholes. Being with people who are the same as you doesn’t teach you social skills, you just reinforce your idea that everyone is a complete idiot except for you and some people who are similar to you (with the remaining differences being proportional to how stupid they are).

This is a dead end. Technology and quick satisfaction of needs push us in a direction that will make us miss happiness in the long run. Since there is no way around technology (contrary to what some extremist lunatics or hippies might say), we should re-invent the social structures that have proven themselves. We need a new form of tribe, something that is compatible to modern times.

I’m almost sure that a meme of this kind will come along soon. My version of this idea consists of several requirements:

  • A tribe includes a small number of people. Each individual should be able to keep track of the relationship between each pair of members. Since the number of these relationships grows exponentially with the size of the tribe, there’s a natural limit. I expect it to be somewhere around 100 based on a report I read some time ago, but the ideal size might be lower due to other limiting factors.
  • Anyone should be able to leave a tribe at any time. Mindless reinforcements ([tribe name] for life!!) are discouraged, harassment of ex-members is banned. A tribe exists solely as the means to ensure the happiness of all its members.
  • There is a trade-off between heterogeneity and like-mindedness. Tribes based on preexisting memes like religions or states may create trouble. Online tribe culture could be an awesome opportunity to bring together people of completely different backgrounds, from all over the world.
  • Groups of tribes could form super-tribes, organized by representatives from each tribe. Same thing goes for super-tribes.
  • A basic tribe should be as unrestricted as possible when it comes to its inner workings. Let them experiment.
  • The super-tribe structure regulates inter-tribe relationships and conflicts. The goal is to make sure everyone‘s connected and to discourage unhealthy rivalries. If two tribes go against each other, the super-tribe steps in. Inter-tribe friendships are encouraged (on any level), along with meetings of tribes who have never met each other before.
  • Communication technology is the key to a tribe’s survival. At the moment this means forums, chats and regular video conferences. A well-organized and supported tribe might even schedule physical meetings.

I’m tempted to write a set of “laws” or some sort of manifest that would regulate this kind of thing, but that would ultimately fail. You just keep finding new things that people do that go against your morals, just to end up with a huge pile of “dont’s”. Instead there should be ongoing research to what makes us happy, how to avoid conflicts and how to direct people to behave in a healthy, self-organizing manner without using any more force than necessary.